Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Turkey

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 19 April 2012
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Turkey, 19 April 2012, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPs954,000-1,201,000
Percentage of total population1.3-1.6%
Start of current displacement situation1984
Peak number of IDPs (Year)954,000-1,201,000 (2006)
New displacementUndetermined
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement, generalised violence, human rights violations
Human development index83

For the past 28 years, Turkish armed forces supported by local "village guard" militias have fought against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (Parti Karkerani Kurdistan or PKK) in the south-eastern and eastern provinces of Turkey. A state policy of burning down villages to prevent them from being used as PKK bases, as well as indiscriminate attacks against civilians by both parties, led to the displacement of between 950,000 and 1.2 million people during the 1980s and 1990s, the majority of them between 1991 and 1996.

Though security in affected regions has generally improved, violence between the armed forces and the PKK broke out sporadically after 2004. In 2011, such fighting recurred but no further displacement was reported. In addition, cross-border operations against Kurdish targets in Iraq intensified.

The vast majority of people trapped in protracted displacement in 2011 were living on the edges of cities, both within affected provinces in cities such as Batman, Diyarbakir, Hakkâri and Van, and elsewhere in cities including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. They had settled among wider poor urban communities, but continued to face discrimination, acute social and economic marginalisation and limited access to housing, education and health care. Problems identified as specifically affecting displaced people included psychological trauma, lack of access to education and high levels of unemployment, particularly among women.

A little over 150,000 people had reportedly returned to their places of origin by 2009. Others were discouraged from returning by the continuing tensions and intermittent violence, the ongoing presence of village guards, and in provinces bordering Syria and Iraq by the million or so landmines deployed. Return areas also lacked livelihood opportunities, social services and basic infrastructure.

South-eastern Turkey is also vulnerable to natural disasters. In October 2011 a major earthquake struck the city of Van, which was a place of refuge for many long-term IDPs as well as a place to which IDPs had returned. It left nearly 30,000 houses destroyed or severely damaged; more than 50,000 people were displaced. The government provided shelter in tent cities, prefabricated housing and public facilities.

The vast majority of IDPs in Turkey are Kurdish, and their displacement and current situation is tied to the lack of recognition of the Kurdish identity. Though the government has pledged a "democratic opening" to Kurds, human rights associations have condemned the continuing discrimination and the use of existing legislation to stifle freedoms, and the use of mass detentions (as applied in response to demonstrations in 2011). They have called repeatedly for past human rights violations against Kurds to be addressed, and the prevalent impunity of state actors to be ended.

The government has taken significant steps to promote the return of IDPs displaced by the conflict. In 1994, it launched the Return to Village and Rehabilitation Project. From 2007 to 2011, it commissioned a national survey to determine the number and situation of IDPs; it drafted a national IDP strategy; it adopted a law to compensate those whose property had been damaged in the conflict; and it put together a pilot action plan in Van Province, to address rural and urban situations of displacement.

The government was developing similar action plans for 13 other affected provinces in the south-east in 2011. Under the coordination of the Ministry of the Interior, a working group drafted and submitted a national action plan, which the Ministry was still reviewing at the end of the year.

Nevertheless, civil society observers have criticised the slow development of these action plans. They have also voiced concerns over the continuing needs of urban IDPs outside the south-east, which the plans do not address. They have criticised programmes for the lack of support which they offer to returning IDPs, and for their lack of transparency, consistency, consultation and adequate funding. They have also criticised the strategy for failing to acknowledge the Kurdish issue.

Progress for IDPs in Turkey has been influenced by regional and international institutions such as the EU, the European Court of Human Rights and the CoE. These institutions have underlined the need for a comprehensive plan to address the socio-economic problems faced by IDPs, particularly those in urban areas, and to ensure support for those who wish to integrate where they are as well as those who want to return. If IDPs are to find sustainable solutions, the international community should continue to encourage the resolution of the pervasive obstacles and encourage wider efforts at reconciliation.

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